Obsession with Butterflies

Russell, Sharman Apt. An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2003.

Reason read: there is a place in Western Massachusetts called Magic Wings. It opened in the month of October. Originally, this was the reason I chose to read Obsession in the month of October. Joyously, I have a new yet fleeting new reason. Monhegan has been inundated with monarch butterflies since September, resting before their journey to Mexico and beyond. We haven’t seen such a migration in years so it is nice to have them back.

This was a fun read. Right off the bat it was interesting to learn about string theory and the idea that there are ten dimensions, butterflies being one of them. But, Russell goes on from there. Recounting mythologies, symbolisms, scientific studies, pop cultures, history, evolution, obsessions, butterflies play an enormous role in our lives, sometimes in the center of it, sometimes on the periphery. Russell has a way with words that is pure magic.
And. And! And, who doesn’t love an author who can compare the antics of caterpillars to Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, with the line, “This is a sprint, the ultimate chase scene” (p 25). There is such a witty humor to Russell’s writing.

I loved this droll little line, “Birds don’t eat their own droppings” (p 21). Okay. Here is an example of Russell’s humor if butterflies posted personals, “Personal ad #24: M seeks F, no pets, no parasites, no kinky hobbies, must like kids and nectar” (p 85) and “Personal ad #189: M, forceful type, wants F any age, minor role-playing, must enjoy airplane rides” (p 88). Too funny.

As an aside, butterflies have long been thought to be the souls of children no longer with us. Indeed, my aunt got a tattoo of a butterfly on her forearm to mourn the loss of her only son.

Author fact: Russell taught writing at two different institutions at the time of publication.

Book trivia: Obsession with Butterflies was illustrated by Jennifer Clark.

Nancy said: Pearl said Obsession with Butterflies is “designed to introduce readers to the (brief) life and behavior of one of the most varied, fascinating, and graceful creatures in the world” (p 69). She goes on to say more but you’ll just have to read More Book Lust to be in the know!

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s” (p 69).


October Late

I am so frigging late with this it’s not even funny. Here are my excuses: I was home-home the first weekend in October. I am hosting an art show. I’m trying to hire a new librarian. And. And! And, I have been running. Only 13.25 miles so far but it’s a start, right? I’m thrilled to be putting one foot in front of the other. But, here are the books:

Fiction:

  • October Light by John Gardner – in honor of October being in the the title of the book and the fact that it takes place in Vermont, a place that is simply gorgeous in the fall.
  • Jamesland by Michelle Huneven – in honor of October being Mental Health Awareness month.
  • Long Day Monday by Peter Turnbull – in honor of police proceedurals.
  • The Axe by Sigrid Undset – in honor of the fact I needed a translated book by a woman for the Portland Public Library challenge. Weak, I know.
  • Isabel’s Bed by Elinor Lipman – in honor of Lipman’s birth month.

Nonfiction:

  • Wyoming Summer by Mary O’Hara – in memory of O’Hara dying in October.
  • An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair by Sharman Apt Russell – in honor of Magic Wings opening in October and the fact that Monhegan was inundated with monarch butterflies for the month of September. We even saw a few while we were home.

Series Continuation:

  • Running Blind by Lee Child – started in honor of New York becoming a state in July (where Lee Child lives). However, big confessional: I am reading this out of order. My own fault completely.

LibraryThing Early Review:

  • Notes from the Velvet Underground by Howard Sounes

Creature of Habit August

Last month (okay, yesterday!) I whined about how I have been feeling uninspired writing this blog. I think it’s because I haven’t really been in touch with what I’ve been reading. None of the books in July jump started my heart into beating just a little faster. “Dull torpor” as Natalie would say in the Maniacs song, Like the Weather. Maybe it comes down to wanting more oomph in my I’mNotSureWhat; meaning I don’t know if what I need or what would fire me up enough to burn down my yesterdays; at least so that they aren’t repeated tomorrow. I’m just not sure.
Hopefully, these books will do something for me:

Fiction:

  • African Queen by Cecil Forester – in honor of the movie. Can I be honest? I’ve never seen the movie!
  • Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas (EB/print) – in honor of August being Friendship month.
  • Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object (EB/print) by Laurie Colwin – in honor of August being National Grief Month.
  • Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen (EB/print) – in honor of August being Frazen’s birth month.
  • Beauty: the Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (EB/print) – in honor of August being Fairy Tale month.

Nonfiction:

  • Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge (EB/print) – in memory of Florence Nightingale. August is her death month.
  • American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Maria Arana (EB/print) – a memoir in honor of August being “Selfish Month.”
  • If there is time: What Just Happened by James Gleick – in honor of Back to School month.

Series continuations:

  • Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov (EB/print) – the penultimate book in the Foundation series.
  • Die Trying by Lee child (AB/EB/print) – the second book in the Jack Reacher series.

Early Review:

  • Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm (started in July).
  • Open Water by Mikael Sturm.

Appealing to April

I have a ridiculous number of books planned for this month. I have no idea what I was thinking.

Fiction:

  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope – in honor of Trollope’s birth month being in April.
  • City and the House by Natalie Ginsberg – in honor of April being Letter Writing month.
  • All Souls by Javier Marias – in honor of Oxford Jazz Festival traditionally being in April.
  • All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor – in honor of April being Sibling month and in honor of Library Week.

Nonfiction:

  • The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs – in honor of John Muir’s birth month (and the fact we are visiting Arizona soon).
  • Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins – in honor of Library Week.

Series continuations:

  • Hunting Season by Nevada Barr to finish the series read out of order.
  • The Game by Laurie R. King – to finish the series started in honor of Female Mystery month.
  • Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith – to finish the series started in honor of Smith’s birth month.
  • The Council of the Cursed by Peter Tremayne – to continue the series started in honor of Tremayne’s birth month.
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • From Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwiemana.

Following February

What to say about this month? It was epic in a myriad of ways. First and foremost, I turned half a century old. I don’t mind the number; I am not bothered by the age. Never the less, friends and family gathered for a party to remember. And. And! And, I re-upped my commitment to running. It’s been slow but I have to admit something here – my breathing has been effed up. I have a scheduled appointment for early March so…I continue to read.

Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Take This Man by Frederick Busch. (EB & print)
  • Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker. (EB)
  • Crossers by Philip Caputo. (EB and print)
  • Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. (EB and print)

Nonfiction:

  • Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey. (print only)
  • Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. (AB, EB and print)

Series Continuations:

  • A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King. (EB and print)
  • Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett. (print)
  • Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov. (EB)
  • A Fine and Bitter Snow by Dana Stabenow. (EB and print)

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • How to be a Patient by Sana Goldberg.
  • Corregidora by Gayl Jones (reread).

For fun:

  • Exploring the Southwest by Tammy Gagne.
  • Calypso by David Sedaris (started).
  • Sharp by Michelle Dean (continuing)
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (continuing)

Beak of the Finch

Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. Read by John McDonough. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2017.

Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Reason read: February is Feed the Birds Month.

Islands are the perfect laboratory for studying a species. In the case of the Galapagos archipelago, the islands are isolated like a fortress; no one can easily arrive or depart. Princeton University biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant, along with their daughters, take a small group of scientists to help them investigate Darwin’s finches. By the beak of the finch they are able to track an evolutionary journey through time. Beak of the Finch is an extraordinary account of survival of the fittest as it happened then; as it is happening right now. Our world is constantly evolving and adapting and we aren’t done yet.
Word to the wise – listen to this on audio. John McDonough does a fantastic job. Weiner’s writing may be approachable science, but McDonough’s reading makes it all the more enjoyable.
As an aside, I love books I like to describe as “rabbit holes.” They take me to knowledge I never would have learned otherwise. I think people describe the internet that way sometimes. In this case, I learned that when a finch is ready to mate its beak turns black. Who knew? Also, at one point Weiner was describing the weather and mentioned El Nino which in turn made me wonder about the name El Nino. I had never really thought about its origin before. Turns out, El Nino means “the child” in Spanish and the storms are named as such because they tended to arrive around Christmastime.

Author fact: Weiner also wrote Time, Love, Memory: a Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origin of Behavior (which I have already read) and His Brother’s Keeper: a Story from the Edge of Medicine, also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Beak of the Finch won a Pulitzer. Another piece of trivia is that Beak of the Finch is full of great illustrations like the one of the iguana on page 104.

Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl describes the plot to Beak of the Finch. In More Book Lust she has a whole chapter (of only three books) dedicated to Weiner and says specifically of Beak of the Finch, “about evolutionary biology as played out on an island in the Galapagos” (More Book Lust p 233). Finally, in Book Lust To Go Pearl says Beak of the Finch is “wonderfully written, extremely readable, and a superb example of the best kind of popular science writing” (Book Lust To Go p 88).

BookLust Twist: Nancy loves this book. It is indexed in all three Lust books: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Bird Brains” (p 39), in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Jonathan Weiner: Too Good to Miss” (p 233) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Galloping Through the Galapagos” (p 88).


The Turk

Standage, Tom. The Turk: the Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess Playing Machine. New York: Walker & Company, 2002

Reason read: Wolfgang von Kempelen was born in January. Read in his memory.

Picture a bygone era ripe with new inventions. This was the industrial revolution. Everyone is coming up with something practical to make life easier or something clever to wow the public’s imagination. Wolfgang von Kempelen’s creativity was sparked when he attended a conjuring show at the court of Austria-Hungary’s empress, Maria Theresa. Kempelen felt he could impress the empress further with his own ingenuity. She gave him six months to prepare a show of his own and at the end of the six months a mechanical Turkish dressed chess player was born. Outfitted with a high turban and a long smoking pipe, the automaton appeared to be capable of thought as he singlehandedly beat even the most skilled chess player at his own game. Kempelen allowed his audience to peer into the machine’s inner workings and yet they still couldn’t figure it out. the automaton became even more lifelike and mysterious when his second owner, Johann Maezel, introduced speech. The Turk, as the mechanical chess player became known, could talk! Instead of nodding three times, the automaton could tell his opponents, “check” in French further adding to his mystique. Like the boy who came to life in Pinocchio, the Turk was pure magic.
For eighty-seven years the Turk wowed audiences all across Europe and the eastern United States (Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston primarily) before a raging fire extinguished his career. The mystery was not the how the automaton worked. Not really. The bigger and better mystery was how, for all those years and kept by multiple owners, the secret did not get out.
It is sad to think the Turk is not squirreled away in some fantastic museum. I fantasize about turning a corner, coming into a dusty room and standing face to face with the mechanical man in a turban who could say, “echec.”

Author fact: Standage also wrote a book called The Victorian Internet and even though it sounds fantastic, it is not on my list.

Book trivia: There are some interesting and revealing illustrations.

Nancy said: Pearl said Turk is “a most entertaining account of a marvelous invention” (Book Lust p 150).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mechanical Men, Robots, Automatons, and Deep Blue” (p 150).